October 22, 2005

Do Lincoln Chafee and Patrick Kennedy Even Know What they’ve been Voting On?

Carroll Andrew Morse

In close association with Zachary Mider’s story on the Tiogue Dam, Saturday’s Projo has two stories where Senator Lincoln Chafee and Congressman Patrick Kennedy give reasons for a supposed lack of Federal funds in Rhode Island.

Senator Chafee blames the “problem” on tax cuts. That explanation doesn’t work. Federal money is here in Rhode Island. In one case, it’s even headed to the right town. It’s just being spent on the wrong things by federal officials too detached to know about Rhode Island's real problems and concerns.

$11,000,000 has been allocated for bike paths in or near the town of Coventry, as part of the $152,000,000 of Rhode Island highway pork. Tax cuts don’t explain why $11,000,000 has been allocated for Coventry's bike paths, but nothing has yet been allocated for repairing Coventry's Tiogue dam.

This is what Senator Chafee has to say about the bill that allocated the $11,000,000 bike paths…

"In the meantime, there are many worthwhile projects and in the grand scheme of things, it is not a significant part of the budget….

I'll just say that I am looking out for Rhode Island and listening to the town managers and mayors who I reach out to before the appropriation process starts each year."

Would Senator Chafee like to name names here? Which town managers and mayors asked him to fund bike paths, but to ignore dams?

Representative Kennedy has a similar conceptual problem. This is his explanation for the lack of flood relief resources in Cumberland…

Kennedy's office has already drafted a letter to President Bush stating that federal funds are crucial to ensuring that the state fully recovers from the flooding, but the congressman said there's no guarantee federal money will come…

Asked if being a blue state, in a time when there are many red states in need of Washington's help, will hurt Rhode Island, Kennedy was blunt.

"I don't think it will hurt us," he said. "But if we had been a red state it certainly would help."

The problem is, there is big Federal money coming to Rhode Island. $38,000,000 is coming to the state of Rhode Island in the form of bikepaths, $152,000,000 in total highway pork. The problem is not lack of funds. The problem is spending priorities. The Federal government is taxing big, then spending big on premium-priced bikepaths and bridges to nowhere, leaving people too financially drained to save what they need for essential infrastructure and disaster relief.

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I think you're a little off in your understanding of how the Congressional appropriations process works. You say that "Federal money is here in Rhode Island...It's just being spent on the wrong things by federal officials too detached to know about Rhode Island's real problems and concerns." Members of Congress work hand in hand with local officials to help determine their needs. Local officials and organizations prepare requests. Local officials and organizations list their priorities. Local officials and organizations tell their Senators and Representatives what they want. Senator Chafee and the rest of our delegation compile these requests to submit to the appropriations committees. Congress doesn’t just guess or pull projects to be funded out of a hat. If you want to lay the blame for funding for a project you don’t think is as important as others, I’m sure the blame can be spread throughout the state, not just to “federal officials.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Mayor Laffey himself has put in requests for what he now considers government waste.

If he hasn’t, then he acted irresponsibly as mayor by not using all resources at his disposal to help the city of Cranston, especially given the significant fiscal difficulties the city faced in the not too distant past.

Posted by: Sarah at October 24, 2005 1:02 PM


It’s a mistake to regard the budget process as an immutable force of nature. Someone from the RI delegation could introduce legislation redirecting some of the money from bike paths to rickety dams, ala Senator Coburn, if they were so interested.

Furthermore, the idea that the Tiogue dam shows that we need to raise taxes doesn’t make sense. Is Senator Chafee implying that both the bike paths and dam repair were considered, but the dam repair was dropped for lack of funds? If not, then how does raising taxes help the situation?

Posted by: Andrew at October 24, 2005 5:48 PM